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DACA Recipients In Central Texas Face An Uncertain Future With Trump Proposal

Martin do Nascimento
Josefina Castro and other demonstrators rally in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program at the Texas Capitol in 2017.

President Donald Trump's Hail Mary offer to trade protections for recipients of the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program for border-wall funding could be dead on arrival as Congress heads back to work this week.

Trump's plan would extend protections to 700,000 DACA recipients, as well as 300,000 people with temporary protected status, for three years in exchange for $5.7 billion for his wall. It was met with immediate pushback from Democratic lawmakers in the House; the Senate plans to take up the proposal this week.

While Texas Sen. John Cornyn said the bill – which would reopen the government after more than a month – could have a shot in the GOP-controlled Senate, Democrats say the offer is a "non-starter."

That impasse spells uncertainty for the more than 120,000 DACA recipients in Texas. Karen Reyes, an Austin Independent School District teacher and DACA recipient, said she doesn't want to see the fates of her fellow Dreamers – or furloughed federal workers – tied to the fight over the border wall.

"I don't even know if I feel shocked anymore by any of that," she said. "This is not the first time that the president, or the administration, has used undocumented youth as a bargaining chip. But right now, I feel like he's doing more than that."

Even if the plan does get congressional approval, she said, the proposal's three-year extension doesn't give her solace. Her protection expires in April 2020, and she can't help but think what could happen if Congress fails to act on DACA – or if it's not dealt with head-on.

“I just really hope that this shutdown ends,” Reyes said, “and [that] the administration is really serious about having conversations, about giving protections and a pathway toward citizenship for folks.”

Cornyn told reporters last weekend in San Antonio that the Senate intends to have those conversations – and pass a bill out to the House.

“This is the president's initial proposal, which I think is a reasonable one, a good place to start," he said.

Edna Yang, deputy director of American Gateways, a nonprofit that provides legal representation for immigrants in Central Texas, said her clients have had immigration court hearings postponed because of the shutdown.

"We've had a number of individuals who have been waiting for hearings for years because of the backlogs with the immigration courts, and they've been canceled," she said.

Yang called the proposal – and the entire 32-day shutdown – a crisis of Trump's own making. She said congressional Democrats' panning of the plan "could be seen from a mile away."

But Jose Garza, executive director of the Workers Defense Project, said if there is a silver lining to the proposal, which he calls a "PR stunt," it's the Trump administration's willingness to act on DACA protections after previously rescinding them last year.

"I think if there's anything positive that came out of Saturday is that the president acknowledged that the right thing to do is to restore status and some sense of certainty for folks who are working on DACA status," Garza said. "And the way to do that would be a clean legislative proposal that creates a pathway to citizenship for everyone currently on DACA status."

Garza said he'd rather the restoration of status – and certainty ­– for DACA recipients not tied to wall funding.

"I think it's a fallacy to suggest, or even to accept, that that legislative action has to be tied to the political demand of the president's base to build a wall," he said.

Reyes said while she hopes Congress can end the shutdown and focus squarely on the fate of DACA recipients, she can't help but think about the worst-case scenario.

"I've thought about it, but I kind of try not to. Because, right now, if you get into that mentality, you're pretty much saying it's going to happen and you're giving up," she said. "And that's not something I teach my kids to do, and I'm not going to do that either."

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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